Tyrannosaur *** ½
Directed by: Paddy Considine.
Written by: Paddy Considine.
Starring: Peter Mullan (Joseph), Olivia Colman (Hannah), Eddie Marsan (James), Paul Popplewell (Bod), Ned Dennehy (Tommy), Samuel Bottomley (Samuel), Sally Carman (Marie).
I don’t know what it is about British actors making their directorial debuts that draws them to dark stories about abuse, but it seems to happen a lot. Gary Oldman made Nil by Mouth, an extremely dark film about martial abuse. Tim Roth made the even darker The War Zone about incest. And Peter Mullan made The Magdalene Sisters, about a systematic series of abuse in a Catholic school. Now, it’s Paddy Considine’s turn with Tyrannosaur. The film opens with Peter Mullan (yes, the same one who made The Magdalene Sisters) coming out of his bookies, extremely upset, and screaming obscenities, who then unties his dog from the pole where he left him, and then proceeds to beat the dog to death. He loved that dog, but he was angry, and the dog was there, so he took the brunt of that anger. And we’re just getting warmed up.
Mullan’s Joseph’s is a mean, lonely drunk. He was married for years to a larger woman (who he called Tyrannosaur because when she walked up the stairs, his tea cup rattled like in movies like
) who has now died. He has no job that we can see, and his best friend in dying of cancer. His first response to every situation is violence. The only person he’s nice to is the son of a neighbor, around 10, who is suffering because he’s mother isn’t very good at raising him, and has a mean, abusive boyfriend with an even meaner dog. One day, Joseph walks into a Christian missionary shop and simply hides among the clothes. The shopkeeper, Hannah (Olivia Colman) comes over and tries to comfort him – telling him that God loves him, and of course, Joseph lashes out at her as well – not getting physically violent, but certainly verbally. But Hannah just takes it, and lets Joseph storm out. Jurassic Park
In the next scene, we understand why Hannah wasn’t really shocked by the violence in Joseph. She’s at home, sleeping on her couch, when her husband James (Eddie Marsan) comes home, tries to wake her up, and when that fails, he pees on her. Hannah understands the violence in Joseph, because she sees it every day in James.
What develops is a strange relationship between Joseph and Hannah. Perhaps because she in the only one who seems to notice him, and treats him with kindness, Joseph keeps coming back, and the two keep talking. When he sees bruises on her, he knows the real story, even though she gives the old “I fell in the bath” excuse. Perhaps Joseph is finally seeing the effect he had on his own wife – who he was certainly abusive to – because now he’s seeing it from a distance. He tries to convince Hannah to leave James, but she won’t. No one will believe her – everyone thinks James is a saint.
Tyrannosaur is certainly not an easy movie to sit through. For the first half an hour, although I admired the performances by Mullan and Colman, and Considine’s gritty direction, I was wondering if the movie was simply going to be a non-stop torrent of abuse, violence and futility. But Considine’s film gradually grows deeper than that, as it examines these two characters – the abuser and the abused – and the way their relationship changes each other. Peter Mullan has always been a great actor (his work in films like My Name is Joe, The Red Riding Trilogy, Miss Julie, The Claim and Young Adam can attest to that), but this may just be his best work. He makes Joseph into a man that we initially hate – after all, how can you not hate a man whose first action in a movie is to murder a dog – and then gradually lets his guard down, and lets the audience into what’s really going on underneath the surface. I cannot recall seeing Olivia Colman before (although she was in Hot Fuzz, alongside Considine), but here she gives a real breakthrough performance. We’ve seen performances by actresses playing abused women before, but not one quite like this. She is like a wounded animal, backed into a corner before he cannot take anymore. Her quiet, subtle performance is enough to break your heart. Eddie Marsan, the only other actor who has a major role, is fine as her abusive husband James, but this has pretty much become the Eddie Marsan role at this point – the seemingly pathetic looking, mild mannered sociopath. Yes, he oozes evil, but not all that much else.
I know a lot of people will have no interest in Tyrannosaur – and I understand that. It is a dark film, one that is extremely hard to take at times. But it you stick with it, if you give these characters a chance to get under your skin and move you, than Tyrannosaur, despite how disturbing is (or perhaps because of it), is an honest and devastating film.